Join us as we bear hug a blizzard while brewing a bodacious beer with our friends at Stiggs Brewery and Kitchen in Boyne City.
Brew Day with Stiggs 2024
We made our third annual trip to Boyne City with Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen for brew day. As in prior years, we set out to brew our burly northwoods s’more stout called “Camping With Uncle Charlie.” Can you call a beer burly if it is made with s’mores? Hell, yes, why not? You’d think that by now, things would be sort of routine. Drive up to Boyne, brew some beer with Mike, David, Derek, and the Stiggs Brew Club, eat killer food, drink outstanding beers, laugh, and enjoy a fun-filled afternoon in Boyne City.
The reality and beauty of brew day with Stiggs is that it is never routine yet always fun, although the fickle winter weather did try to throw us for a loop.
You never know with Michigan weather. The first year we brewed with Stiggs, it was sunny and zero degrees. Last year, we were in sweatshirts, and there wasn’t a snowflake in sight. This year, the weather service warnings of snowpocalypse buzzed on our phones as we drove up from Kalamazoo after spending a couple of days at Michigan’s Great Beer State Conference and Trade Show.
Mike called us on our way up to say they were canceling their 7th year anniversary party due to the storm. The Fat and Furious bike race was canceled as well. Mike thought putting up a tent with predicted 50-mile-an-hour winds would be folly. However, he and the Stiggs Brew Club were still game to brew beer. We rejoiced as the snow began to fall, and we pulled into our awesome Airbnb in Boyne City.
Wind? What Wind
The morning of brew day, we woke to a generous amount of snow on the ground and more coming down in fits and starts. While the winds didn’t hit 50, they were pushing hard, making the 18 degrees feel closer to 10 or 5 or? Hell, I’m not sure what the real feel was, but it was seasonally crisp.
Instead of setting up the fire pit on the side of Stiggs Brewery, Mike had the genius idea of moving it out in front of the building. This allowed us to avoid the winds for the most part while enjoying the snow.
In short order, Mike and Steve (the Treasurer of the Stiggs Brew Club) had the fire pit roaring. David was downstairs inside Stiggs, getting the mash ready to rock. No wind or snow could stop us now.
With the wort in the kettle, it was time to feed the fire and wait for the boil. To give us something fun and interesting to do, Steve broke out the bierstacheln. You may have an eyebrow cocked at this moment, wondering what in the hell is a bierstachlen? The word Bierstacheln is German for “Beer Sting” or “Beer Spike. “It is a steel rod with a handle. You heat the steel in the fire and then plunge it into your beer. The cold beer boils up a froth of hot foam. Sounds awesome, right?
We experimented with various beers. Steve brought some Oddsides Krumpusbock. David gathered a few small pitchers of Stigg’s barleywine, brown, and imperial stout. Each beer spike resulted in unique flavors particular to the beer. The barleywine gained more of a raisin or currant taste. Whereas the bock became a bit more caramel, and the stout achieved notes of rich hot chocolate.
You may wonder, as I did, why anyone would think to put hot steel in their beer. According to a great story by Grace Lee-Weitz in Hopculture.com, it is believed that bierstacheln began as a way to warm up cold winter beers. At the time, around 400 years ago, folks drank their beers warm. In the winter, some genius had the idea of using a hot iron spike to warm up their beers. Thank you, beer spike inventor, for the beirstacheln. It is an entertaining way to put a new spin on drinking beers, especially outside by the fire pit.
Never The Same Beer
Each year, our collaboration beer with Stiggs is different. The beer gets better every time. My judgment could be biased as I completely enjoy the process, which takes the brewing back to its roots by making the beer in a huge pot over an open fire.
Stiggs’ head brewer, David Osterhouse, made a few tweaks to the grain selection (aka the grain bill) and swapped the whole marshmallows for marshmallow whip. He thought the whip would break down easier in the fermentation.
I think David may have also upped the chocolate nibs, but I could be wrong. What I do know for sure is that when the boiled wort was cooled and transferred out of the pot to ferment, there was a touch of leftover chocolate and graham crackers on the bottom. I grabbed a spoon. It was like enjoying the brownie mix leftover in the mixing bowl.
What Out Texas
After visiting Austin, Texas, this past fall, we’ve been comparing local barbeque to the delicious brisket we enjoyed at such places as Snow’s and Franklins. Let me tell you that Chef J at Stiggs has his recipe dialed into perfection. I would put his brisket up against any that we had in Austin. The flavor is unbelievable! I failed to get a picture of the meat platter, which includes brisket, pulled pork, ribs, sausage, beans, coleslaw, and potato salad. It is huge and enough for two.
However, I did snag a photo of their Smokehouse burger. This monster is a half-pound burger topped with what looks like another half-pound of brisket and pulled pork. Piled onto that mass of meat are onion rings and BBQ sauce. Don’t make any plans after eating one of these bad boys, as you’ll need your rest.
When we had a chance to thaw after our brew day with Stiggs, we got on the horn with Mike Castiglione (does anyone still call the phone a horn?). Mike had mentioned some changes brewing at Stiggs, and we wanted to get the scoop.
One change we noticed upon arrival for Brew Day is the service model at Stiggs. They have moved from table service to a traditional pub style or bar service where you order from the bartenders. We ordered at the bar, and the beers were up right away. Someone on the Stiggs team delivered any food orders to our table. Overall, the new service setup was great. We never waited in a line as they had two ordering stands offering prompt attention.
On the big news front, Stiggs is looking to add a second location. Nothing has been set in stone yet. However, Mike mentioned, “We’re going for a distribution center. We’re going to get either a 10- or 15-barrel brew house.” Mike added, “We aren’t going to have a proper kitchen for the second location. It’ll be a tap room and a food truck scenario with our priorities set on distribution.”
The brew house change will be huge as Stigg’s currently operates on a 2.5-barrel system. Here’s to hopefully finding Stiggs beer in a store near you in the next year.
Come and Get It: Camping With Uncle Charlie S’mores Stout
Meeting up with Mike, David, Derek, and the Stiggs Brew Club to brew beer and hang out for an afternoon is always a joy. The beer community at Stiggs is warm and inviting. They are truly great people to kick back with and share a brew or two with. If you get a chance, come up and experience it for yourself.
If you want to try “Camping With Uncle Charlie, “you’ll need to make plans to attend the 18th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest on Saturday, February 24th. Stiggs will have “Camping With Uncle Charlie” on tap over at LMCU Ballpark in Comstock Park (just north of Grand Rapids) for the festival. Let us know if you plan to attend.
We’ve got more photos from our Brew Day with Stiggs 2024 edition in our gallery. Take a gander, and feel free to share.
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